My entire life happened in a split second that could so easily have never happened. This moment reverberated in my life and in many other lives for more than half a century.
The location was a suburban road in Manchester, July 19, 1972. It was a perfect, sunny day; my sister Clare, aged three, was playing with friends in a neighbor’s garden.
Somehow they got out of the garden and decided to return to our house on their own.
Scary, but it shouldn’t have been too dangerous; our family home was on the same side of the road as the friends’ garden.
Clare – blonde, easy-going, gentle-natured – was walking or running down the sidewalk with her three boyfriends.
In sharp focus: a photo of three-year-old Clare, digitally enhanced using AI technology. Joanna Moorehead’s sister Clare (pictured) was fatally injured when she was hit by a car aged three.
Maybe they wanted to play on the porch in our garden or ask my mother if she wanted to come out of the paddling pool.
They must have been about to turn into our driveway when, inexplicably, something made them decide to cross the road.
Was it an animal—a cat, perhaps—sitting on the sidewalk across the street that they decided to pet?
The road in front of our house was neither a fast nor a main road, and it was straight, so any driver should have had a clear view of four young children heading where they should not have been.
But this particular driver was looking at a map. When he looked up, he was surprised to see four young children, too close to avoid.
He knew he was going to hit one; in a split second, he decided to turn his steering wheel this way rather than that.
Fortunately, three of the children remained unharmed. But there was one lying on the road, mortally wounded: my sister Clare.
She died the next day in hospital.
The day before, I was an ordinary nine-year-old child, who believed that the safe idyll of childhood was sacred, untouchable.
The next day, at lunchtime, when my parents came home with the terrible news, I knew that life was as fragile as a sheet of glass, a window whose view could be shattered at any moment. irreparable way.
Joanna experienced a wave of grief when she received grief counseling 30 years after Clare’s death.
Everything that was certain now turned out to be a maybe.
It happened more than half a century ago, but in a way, maybe it was yesterday. Somewhere deep inside I am still shocked when I think about what happened that day.
Clare should be 54 now, but she never even went to primary school.
Memories of our brief time together returned recently when my youngest daughter, Catriona, surprised me by taking one of our rare photos of Clare, a rather blurry photo taken shortly before her death, digitally enhanced using from an AI photo editing app called Remini. Seeing him highlighted – literally – the daughter we lost.
In a split second, everything that was certain became maybe
As the emotions flooded in, it took me back to the days when we played together in the backyard, sitting together watching TV.
I remember how excited I was, at the age of six, to become a big sister again; how I thought I was now old enough to be properly involved in her care, how much I would enjoy holding her and giving her her first solid food.
I shared the photo with friends, who all said the same thing: “She looks so much like your daughters!” (I have four, now aged 21 to 31, the eldest of which is Roseanna Clare.)
The family resemblance was striking – I don’t think I’ve ever noticed it so clearly before. The girls also couldn’t believe how much they looked like him.
Indeed, when they were young, they often reminded me of Claire; it was comforting and sad.
The truth is that Clare’s death freed me from many obsessions related to raising children. Indeed, come to think of it, maybe his death was the reason I was a laissez-faire parent.
Joanna is pictured with her four daughters at her home in south London in November 2012. Left to right: Rosie, Miranda, Catriona and Elinor
Of course, I was happy when they did well in school, performed in a play, or passed a piano exam. But it was clear to me that what mattered most was simply that they were there.
Having a relatively large family of four children was probably also linked to Clare’s loss.
Clare could never be replaced. I know that my parents had no choice but to continue living, doing their best for me and my surviving brother and sister, as well as for my youngest brother, whose birth followed Clare’s death .
The days, weeks and months following his death were incredibly difficult. Finding out she was dead was such a shocking moment that I tend not to think about it in my mind – it’s just too painful.
My daughters’ bond reflects Clare’s spirit
I made his memory disappear; I put Clare in a box I kept in my heart and didn’t unwrap it until 30 years later when I went to grief counseling and went to see her grave for the first time . Then I was shocked by the cruelty of grief, by the pain of my childhood preserved in jelly.
Besides missing Clare, I missed the family we had been; it was gone, forever.
My parents’ approach — which now seems completely understandable to me — was to talk about her as little as possible. The grief was so great that, perhaps, the only way to survive was to try to ignore the shadow.
What my mother, now 85, has always said is that Clare is our family’s guardian angel. For many years this seemed a bit odd to me, but recently I’ve wondered if maybe she was right.
Maybe when I held my four daughters’ hands too tightly while we waited at pedestrian lights, Clare was with us too.
Today, the four of them are very close. This summer, as we mourned Clare again, they told me they thought their bond was somehow a reflection of Clare’s spirit, extending to a new generation. Hearing them say this was incredibly moving.
Joanna hopes that something of the preciousness of life she learned from Clare has been passed on to her daughters.
When they were kids, I made sure to tell them about Clare. I firmly believe that our family stories and memories are part of our lives, ingrained in our histories and in the way our families behave.
I hope that some of the preciousness of life that I learned from Clare has been passed on to my daughters and will one day be passed on to my grandchildren.
But there is no silver lining to losing a child in your family; more than half a century has passed and I have a sadness within me that I know will never go away.
The loss of Clare will cast a shadow over my entire life, as it should have been there my entire life.
My father died 14 years ago at the age of 76, and it was a different kind of loss. As his coffin was lowered into the grave that already contained Clare, my thoughts were as much on her as on him, and the impact of her loss on the rest of his life.
That split-second moment always has such power. Sharing Clare’s photo on social media last month made me think that if sharing her story could inspire even one driver to be more careful on the road, it would be worth it.
I have often wondered what happened to the man who drove the car that hit Clare.
Decades later, I came across newspaper clippings about the trial that followed; the driver was fined, but I imagine that was the least of the pain for him.
Taking nothing for granted, Joanna and her husband Gary, pictured on holiday in Menorca, relish the moments when their daughters are with them
Today, it’s not so much the sister I could have that I miss, but the life Clare should have. What kind of career would she have followed? Would she have married? Did you have children? I miss all this life for her, in her name.
For many years it made me angry to think that Clare didn’t have this life, because it seemed like she was entitled to it, and it was taken away from her.
But over time, his death taught me something different: that in fact, none of us have a right to this life. A sunny day, a cat, a card: it can all come crashing down so suddenly.
And so I smell the roses. I listen to the birds when I wake up. I enjoy the times when my daughters are with me and my husband. I don’t take anything for granted; I try to live in the present and cherish what I have today.